At Emotional Hearing, Judge Rules That Suspect in Slayings of Girlfriend, Boys Will Not Be Released on Bond

Joseph Mays allegedly told police he couldn't remember what happened.
Joseph Mays allegedly told police he couldn't remember what happened. (Special To The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Keith L. Alexander and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The man arrested in the stabbing deaths of his girlfriend and her two young sons was held without bond at an emotional hearing yesterday in D.C. Superior Court.

Joseph R. Mays, 44, was charged with three counts of second-degree murder while armed in the stabbing of Erika Peters, 37, with whom he shared an apartment in the 2000 block of Maryland Avenue NE. His arraignment was delayed and the courtroom was briefly cleared after friends and relatives shouted their objections when Mays's attorney asked that he be released.

According to court documents, Peters was stabbed more than a dozen times in the chest and around her face and hands. The tip of a knife was embedded in her skull. Her 11-year-old son, Erik Harper, was found in the bathroom lying next to the toilet with stab wounds to his chest and head. His 10-year-old brother, Dakota Peters, was found on the floor by the front door with wounds to the back of his head.

Police found Mays lying prone with superficial wounds on the floor of a locked bedroom, next to the 3-year-old daughter he had with Peters. Nearby was a large, bloodied knife with a broken tip and a barely legible note saying, "I'm sorry" and "I tried to make it work."

Mays allegedly told police that he "blacked out" and could not remember what happened.

Many friends and relatives had long worried about the volatile relationship between Peters and Mays, a home health care worker. One relative told police that Peters's sons were terrified of Mays and did not want to be left alone with him. Several times, the relative said, Mays had thrown them to the ground, lodged his knee on the nape of their necks, pinned their arms behind them and beaten them.

Kewa Jackson, who had known Peters since they attended a domestic violence program at the House of Ruth in 1999, said Mays was abusive toward Peters as well.

"He used to treat her real bad," she said.

But Jackson said that Peters felt she needed Mays because her health was poor and he was a home health aide. According to court documents, Mays was a full-time worker for Dynamic Visions Home Healthcare on Georgia Avenue. The director of the company said it had 500 employees and he could not immediately confirm that Mays was one of them. He said the company had a contract with the D.C. government to provide home health care to Medicaid recipients.

Despite the abuse, Jackson said, Peters had been preparing to move out of the apartment and away from Mays.

"We had this planned out," Jackson said. "She wanted to get away from him. She told him that she was tired of the abuse. He used to take her food stamps and say, 'These are my tax-paying dollars.' "

At yesterday's hearing, Mays's attorney asked Magistrate Judge Frederick Sullivan to release Mays from custody. She said there were no witnesses to the stabbings, Mays had no prior convictions and there were no court orders showing that Peters had sought a protection order against Mays.

Upon hearing the request, several friends and relatives who filled three rows in the courtroom sobbed out loud and yelled at the defendant.

"Go ahead -- let him out. We'll take care of him," one man taunted.

Sullivan ordered the courtroom to be cleared for about 20 minutes, and then the hearing proceeded with nine marshals present.

Sullivan set a preliminary hearing for May 22. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Cobb requested a DNA test to determine whether the blood on the knife was Mays's.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company